Diana and I are passionate bicycle riders and have been riding a tandem bike for 25 years. Eight years ago we retired and moved to Florida so we could ride 365 days a year. We live in The Villages, the largest retirement community in the world, and ride with an active group of serious tandem riders.
Two years ago we rode into some deep sand on the road and crashed. I was not hurt, but Diana broke her hip, pelvis, shoulder and wrist and surgeons had to install a significant amount of hardware to put her back together. She has osteoporosis which means that another crash would have even more serious consequences, so she will never again ride on a regular upright tandem bike. We switched to a recumbent tandem trike which reduces our chances of crashing and breaking more bones. However, tandem trikes are slower than upright racing tandems, so to keep up with our friends, we added an electric motor that we use to climb hills, accelerate after stopping or any other time that our friends pull away from us.
Ever since we got our first tandem trike and installed the electric motor, we have been looking for someone who would build us a custom tandem trike. Three months ago we met the makers of Ti-Trikes at a bike show and were impressed with their all-titanium single trikes. They had never built a tandem trike but agreed to do one for us, incorporating their many design innovations as well as our specifications. They brought us our new tandem trike two weeks ago, and we are delighted.
• The frame is made of virtually indestructible titanium
• It is much faster than our old trike, both with and without the motor
• It is very stable on corners and steers easily
• It has two lithium batteries that will take us over 60 miles on a single charge
• The batteries are stored under the seats, leaving the rear rack clear for a bike bag
• The two-piece memory foam seats are very comfortable and easy to adjust
The most important difference is that the motor is under the seats, not on the rear wheel. This significantly reduces rotating mass in the rear drive wheel of the trike. The mid-drive system provides real time transmission of the power through the rear derailleur, which is not available on any hub motor. Also, because it is a geared motor, when I am not using the motor it is in a free wheel position, eliminating resistance to the pedals. This offers us a tremendous training advantage because we can now spin our pedals faster and move the bike much faster when we are not using the motor. Since turning off the motor no longer causes so much pedal resistance that it slows the bike down, we don’t need to use the motor as often.
The Ti-Trike tandem has a long chain that goes from the front and rear pedals to the motor and a shorter chain that goes from the motor to the rear wheel. There is no timing chain (the chain on a regular tandem that connects the front and rear pedals). The rear cassette has 10 gears, and both the front and rear cranks are internal planetary geared Patterson transmissions which allow each of the riders to shift to a high or low gear and to pedal independently of the other rider.
Training with Our New Ti-Trike
We are serious bicycle riders and understand training. We know that exercise prolongs life and prevents disease and that the more intensely we exercise, the greater the benefits. Research shows that training at high intensity not only makes you faster and more fit, it also helps to reduce your chances for suffering heart attacks, cancers, diabetes and other diseases.
The limiting factor to how fast you can ride is the time it takes to move oxygen into your muscles. When your muscles start to run low on oxygen, you become severely short of breath and have to slow down. To increase the maximum rate you can bring oxygen into your muscles (VO2max), you have to train at your lactate threshold, the fastest you can ride and still meet your muscles needs for oxygen.
You can’t really become short of breath on a bicycle unless you spin your pedals at a fast pace and circulate a lot of blood. Most knowledgeable bicycle riders try to spin their pedals at a cadence of more than 70 revolutions per minute. Bicycle racers know that to go fast, you have to spin your pedals faster than that. Most racers try to keep their cadence above 90 revolutions per minute. We know that an intense workout requires us to become short of breath and make our leg muscles burn. Our old tandem trike offered so much resistance to our pedaling that when our legs would burn, we could not spin the pedals fast enough to become short of breath.
On our new Ti-Trike, Diana rides in the front (captain’s seat) and controls the steering and brakes, while I sit in the rear (stoker’s seat) and control the gears and the motor. We use the motor only when we have to accelerate or when people riding with us start to pull away from us. The rest of the time we try not to use the motor.
We start off with a short push from the motor. Then I adjust the gears to achieve a cadence of about 90 pedal rotations per minute. I do all our gearing by following the resistance on the pedals. If the resistance increases, I immediately lower the gear ratio. If we start to spin much over 100 pedal revolutions per minute, I increase the gear resistance or turn off the motor. When the pressure on the pedals increases significantly and a change in gearing will not keep up the 90 cadence, I twist the throttle to turn on the motor so we do not lose our 90 cadence. We are getting much better workouts on the Ti-Trike and are enjoying them more.
Who Should Consider a Tandem Trike?
Trikes are fun and easy for anyone, even if you do not know how to ride a two-wheel bike, because there is no problem with balance. A custom tandem trike is a significant investment, but it can be a lifesaver for any active couple who find themselves faced with a disability. On a tandem trike, two people can combine their strengths to overcome a special need or weakness. Consider a tandem trike if you are dealing with:
• Recovery from a stroke
• Visual impairment
• Any reason why you cannot afford to fall, such as osteoporosis or a joint replacement
• Balance or motor control problems or muscle weakness
• Parkinson’s disease
• Multiple sclerosis
• TBI (traumatic brain injury)
• Prolonged recovery time after surgery or injuries
• Early stages of dementia
• Just about any other health condition that limits your ability to exercise
Ti-Trikes has extensive experience in customizing single trikes for people with disabilities. Now that they have perfected their design of a tandem trike, they are ready to work with couples who have special needs. You will want to check with your own doctor, but I will be happy to share my experience and medical knowledge with anyone who is considering a tandem trike for their particular health condition or challenge.
One of the things that made us happiest about the new trike is – it actually fits in our Chrysler Town & Country van! The old trike had to be split in two, with the chain and cables taken apart, so it was a huge pain to travel. The new trike is not shorter, but the large rear wheel and lack of batteries on the rear rack make it possible to roll it in between the two front seats. The front boom slides out and lays on the floor beside the trike to get the door closed – but it just slides right back on when we arrive at our destination; there is no need to take the chain apart.
Caution: Intense exercise can cause heart attacks in people who have blocked arteries leading to their hearts, irregular heartbeats or other abnormalities. Heart attacks during exercise are more likely to occur when a person starts a new exercise program or increases the speed or duration of exercise. Check with your doctor.